All posts filed under: Travel


Dispatches from Mudgee, New South Wales (Plus What to Eat, Drink & Do There)

Everyone needs a bolt hole, even people who live in a city like Sydney. About three and a half hours inland from Sydney, and over the Blue Mountains, lies a gorgeous small town and wine region called Mudgee. Wine is not new here, winemakers have been active in Mudgee for over 150 years, but it is growing quickly and it is now the third largest winemaking region in New South Wales. At that, it is emerging in terms of tourism, and it is still under the radar for international visitors like you and me.

The white mosque with the water village in front

Dispatches from Brunei’s Bandar Seri Begawan

Brunei, a tiny country on the island of Borneo, surrounded by Malaysia, Sabah on one side and Sarawak on the other, is one of the worlds wealthiest countries, thanks to their plentiful supply of oil. It is also one of the smallest, with a population of 415,717, approximately 10% of the population of the small country that I hail from, Ireland. With one major city, Bandar Seri Begawan, and the rainforest beyond, Brunei makes a good stopover en route to Melbourne or other destinations, like Sabah, on the Royal Brunei flight network. But what do you do when you get there?


Dispatches from the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest, Ireland

[Photo: Maggie Beer, Yotam Ottolenghi, Darina Allen and Sami Tamimi – they were having so much fun I couldn’t get a photo of them that wasn’t slightly blurred!] I have many food related excuses to go home to Ireland, and I am clucky, for some people travel from Australia, the US, and many other places to go to one of my favourites, the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest, a smart and fun gathering of some of the worlds best food writers and chefs, who convene in a corner of East Cork to share their knowledge and to discuss pertinent matters in the world of food. The weekend is full of chat, talks and debate, there are cooking demos, and ultimately everyone ends up in the fringe festival in The Big Shed for some wine and a bit of a boogie later on.


A Weekend in Dublin at The Westbury Hotel

It is St Patrick’s Day tomorrow, and I am declaring this Irish week on the blog. A national holiday in Ireland and a day of celebration of Irish culture worldwide, if you would like to hit a city where you can have a superb day and where they don’t dye the rivers or beer green, well, go to Dublin. I never did understand why people would want to drink something green (and that kind of applies to green juice too, although I have succumbed on occasion).


Dispatches from a Weekend in Finnish Lapland on a Reindeer Farm

Can I tell you something ridiculous?  I am nursing a selfie stick injury. A selfie stick injury?! Am I embarassed? Not even a tiny bit.  I was always a bit snooty about selfie sticks. The first time I saw one was in the Pantheon in Rome (oooh er, but really). Two guys were perched beneath it, grinning up. I scoffed internally. What in gods name is that? I thought it a little shameless and wondered how the world had come  it. I mean I just never would. Never ever. 


A Sleepy Sunday at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Provence (and a Perfect Sunday Lunch)

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence is a gorgeous little town, patches of land interspersed between strands of river and streams, with waterwheels, tendrils of moss hanging down, dragging themselves round. Known for a Sunday market full of antiques, food stalls and lots of randomness, I spent a lovely Sunday meandering it last weekend. I heard after that this is where Keith Floyd had an antique shop before he became a chef. I wanted every antique knife, spoon, fork and copper pan but reserved the space for chickpeas and chickpea flower purchased from a grower and a huge fat plait of stinky purple garlic. I watched rotisserie chicken spinning around, glistening with fat and saying EAT-ME, FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-GOD-EAT-ME-NOW. I wanted to, I really did and I desperately wanted to just run and grab some of the potatoes drinking all of that gorgeous chicken fat underneath, but I behaved. As much as I wanted to grab a chicken and just eat it with some bread, I also wanted to sit down and have a nice lunch. At the last minute …

Truffle Hunting with Crillon Le Brave in Provence, France

A Weekend Truffle Hunting at Crillon Le Brave, Provence

Truffle hunting (oink oink, SNORT!), gooey chocolate truffles, and doing the truffle shuffle (I inadvertently have earned the right through this food writing of mine), regardless of what truffles make you think of, the fungal variety, growing underground and snuffed out by dogs and less so now, pigs, are a wonder. Rich, funky, and smelling of things that most people won’t admit to (also male pig pheremones, which is why female pigs are so good at earthing them out), they are the ultimate flavour bomb, making simple things taste amazing with the tiniest bit of work. A small chop, slice or grate will do you just fine, and they will elevate eggs, fried, scrambled or in an omelette, to one of the best dishes in the world. Buttered bread becomes something you might fight your mother for, anything simple with fat and richness (lard works great), with truffles enters a My Fair Lady sort of situation, adopting a smart accent, elegant umbrella and dress.  I love a truffle.

Sabah Tea Plantation,  Malaysian Borneo

Visiting Sabah Tea Plantation & Facing My (Non Tea Related) Fears

The thoughts that go through your head when you are terrified of heights but doing something that might kill or cure you are overwhelming. When in Sabah, despite signs saying something like “just please don’t do this if you are afraid of heights, ok? OK?!”, I kept schtum and did a very high and very wobbly rainforest rope walk anyway. I have had a year of trying to conquer my fears (doing the worlds longest island to island zipline in Sabah was another one), and forced myself.

Tuna cooked in Aromatics, a local fish soup from the sea gypsy culture in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Cooking in Sabah: Two Healthy Sea Gypsy Recipes (Fish Soup & a Fish Salad)

Visiting Sabah, I was excited as always about the food and the peculiarities that would be offered by the region and the local cooking. Sabah is tucked away in Borneo, caressing the sea, but it has a lot of rainforest and cultivated land too. On the coast there are what are referred to locally as sea gypsies, living in wooden houses on stilts in the sea by the coast. Originating from Indonesia and the Philippines, they do have their own local food culture, and I found a chef who teaches it, Fortunato Lowel, at the Mango Garden Restaurant.

Sambal Stingray in Sabah - don't miss it! Such a good dish.

The Street Food Markets of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

One of the joys of going to Sabah is exploring the food markets. Malaysian food culture is rich and diverse, and Sabah, tucked away on the island of Borneo, has a food heritage all of its own combined with Malaysian standards. Lots of native fish and meats are used, crocodile and stingray are probably some of the most unusual, but there is lots of beef and chicken, and more familiar fish like snapper and prawns.


Where to Eat Tapas in Madrid on a Sunday for Lunch

It would take years to explore fully all of the tapas in Madrid. Madrid is full of small restaurants that specialise in one dish and do it brilliantly, and Madrid is a big place. I only had a few days and it was my first trip to the city (it won’t be my last – I loved it), but I had the help of some locals, recommendations from fellow food bloggers and writers, and I also had the assistance of a local guide who had a brilliant list of her favourites.  On a bright autumnal Sunday lunch time, we met at Plaza Mayor and headed to Casa Revuelta (Calle de Latoneros 3), a small busy tapas bar famous for light bright and crisp fried cod, served with either beer or wine. A bargain at €2.80 (or €3.80 with wine, €4 with beer) and a perfect first stop. Now owned by Begona, her father in law opened Casa Revuelta 48 years ago. At 92 years old now, he is naturally less involved, but it is still …

An Orangutan in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Sabah: Observing Orangutans at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabiliation Centre

  (and an incredible package offer for the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort for you – see the end of this post for details) Indulge me. I know I obsess about food, and that is why you mainly come here, but today, I want to talk about orangutans. On my recent trip to Sabah, I was swept away not just by the food, but also monkeys, apes, monitor lizards, crocodiles and inquisitive owls.  Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, is a well known honeymoon destination. It has the pristine beaches, luxury hotels and resorts, glorious sunsets, blue skies and crystal seas dotted with islands, that top most honeymoon wish lists. Sabah has wonderful Malaysian food, lots of fresh fish, aroma, heat and spice, but also curiosities like crocodile (I tried a kind of crocodile bacon at one point!). There are great street food markets (sambal stingray, you tasty thing you), lots of local restaurants, the people of Malaysia are passionate about their food and they eat very well.  I was expecting to love exploring the food and to be enthralled …


High Jinks and Fantastic Food at the Water Masterclass at Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

Water Masterclass? Am I losing it? No, dear friends, I spent a day at a Water Masterclass near Melbourne, Victoria last year, and it was one of the best days of last year. And I had a lot of very good travel days. Every year at Melbourne Food & Wine Festival there is a masterclass based around the theme of the festival. The 2014 theme was water, ergo, water masterclass and 50 excited people gathered by the river at 8.30am, sparkling wine in hand, and boarded a bus to regional Victoria. We were to spend the day in the company of the UK’s Nathan Outlaw, Peter Gilmore of Quay in Sydney, and local chef Aaron Turner, now based in Nashville, who had returned home for the event. Expectations were high.

Giuseppe's battery, now 40 years old

The Story of the Real Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at Acetaia Pedroni, Emilia Romagna

In a small town outside Modena, there is an acetaia called Aceaia Pedroni. Here they make balsamic vinegar, the real balsamic vinegar, and the Pedroni family have been making it in this location since 1862. Now run by Italo, 80 and his wife Franca (who still cooks in the family taverna), they make balsamic vinegar and some wines, including lambrusco and pignoletto (local sparkling wines). We all know balsamic vinegar, but few of us know the real stuff. The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (which it must be called by law) takes a minimum of 12 years to mature through a patient process of evaporation and careful management in a family of at least five barrels, called a battery. This process is protected and governed by law, and the vinegar and acetaia are checked by government representatives. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar starts with grapes, Trebbiano (a white grape) in Acetaia Pedroni’s case. These are gently crushed, now by machine, but before by children primarily, as it needed to be gentle. The grapes are then cooked and …

A Postcard from Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

I have stacks of recipes to share with you all, and was in the midst of writing one up for you, when I thought: no, I really don’t want to do that right now. What I have to do is share some pictures from Sabah with you first. It is a wonderful place, and while I am here I am keen to share it with you. Sabah is in Malaysian Borneo. A tropical part of the world, it has sea and rainforest, monkeys and bears, and lots of fantastic food, particularly seafood. I have been busy since my arrival, that won’t surprise you much, and have seen and eaten lots. The food has been wonderful, as good as I had been told, but I would be telling a lie if I didn’t tell you that it was the wildlife that stole my heart. Oran utangs (translates as man of the jungle), proboscis monkeys (so called because of their massive nose, they are also called belanda, Malay for Dutchman, as it was thought that the Dutch …

Making Fresh Gozitan Cheese with Rikardu in Gozo, Malta

Scenes from Gozo. Gozo is the second of the three Maltese islands. When you consider that the smallest has only three (elderly) inhabitants, and that Gozo itself is only 8.7 x 4.5 miles, you might be surprised to learn that Gozo has a food culture all of its own. Best among this is the Gozitan fresh cheese, Ġbejniet. I made it my mission to meet a cheesemaker while I was on the island and explore this. The world is a smaller tighter place when you can get close to the origins of your food, and the people who make it. Ġbejniet is made daily by small farmers (one I met, Victor, from the charming Dreams of Horses farm has just a few sheep and makes it daily). I managed to track down Rikardu, who has a farm with 200 sheep and goats which he milks by hand daily, and then makes fresh cheese with the milk while it is still warm. He sells the cheese in his restaurant Ta’ Rikardu, where you can have the …

What to Eat in Madrid & Where to Eat It

Madrid is a serious food city. It is also a city that parties hard and keeps extremely late hours. I went to bed early each night over the weekend that I was there, at 3am. Woah, Madrid! Madrileños eat as they drink, and that eating is a serious business. Their expectations are high, and so they should be, quality abounds, and once you steer clear of the tourist joints, you will eat well. This list is based on my last trip there, a week ago. It is well researched and sampled, but not exhaustive. Madrid is brilliant and exciting in that it has an enviable list of great places to eat. Which is why I plan to go back there as soon as I can manage it. For this trip, I asked the locals, as only people who live there can have the full breadth of experience required to pick a sample for a weekend. Conspicuously absent on this list until my return is Callos Madrileños (Madrid style tripe), Cocido Madrileño (a heavy chickpea based stew) and DiverXO …